The Available Brain Power of the U.S. National Energy Laboratories

Researchers at Oakridge National Laboratories
Researchers at Oakridge National Laboratories

The U.S. National Energy Laboratories Give the U.S. a Leg Up for Energy Research.

The U.S. National Energy Laboratories is a system of 17 laboratories and facilities across the country that tackle the critical scientific challenges of our time. These labs push the frontiers of scientific knowledge, and keep the nation safe, secure, and they fuel the country’s clean energy economy.

NREL National Labs

NREL National Labs

The backbone of basic and applied science in the US, the laboratories employ over 22,000 people and has a fiscal budget of $11.2 billion for the year 2015.

Among the goals and aims of the system are:

  • Enhance homeland, national, and global security through ensuring the reliability and security if the US nuclear system, securing the nation’s borders, and preventing the spread and development of mass destruction;
  • Design, implement, and operate scientific facilities and make them easily available to the research community;
  • Conduct scientific research of the highest caliber;
  • Advance the human race’s understanding of the world;
  • Produce clean energy technologies that are reliable, affordable, and readily available.

The National Laboratories are overseen by the US Department of Energy (DOE), with the purpose of advancing science and technology in accordance with the DOE mission and vision.

Out of the 17 laboratories, 16 are federally funded development centers that are managed, administered, and operated by private sector organizations, all of which are under the management and operating contract of the DOE. Some of the facilities have shut down due to their contracts ending, but are still in limited operations and are able to respond to national emergencies, specifically in terms of defense.

The 17 laboratories are:

1. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California
2. Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico
3. Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee
4. Argonne National Laboratory in Dupage County, Illinois
5. Ames Laboratory in Ames, Iowa
6. Brookhaven National Laboratory in Uptown, New York
7. Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico and Livermore, California
8. Savannah River National Laboratory in Aiken, South Carolina
9. SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park, California
10. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington
11. Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois
12. National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado
13. Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Newport News, Virginia
14. Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho Falls, Idaho
15. Princeton Plasma Physics Lab in Princeton, New Jersey
16. National Energy Technology Lab in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; in Albany, Oregon; in Sugar Land, Texas; in Morgantown, West Virginia
17. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California

The national laboratories manage research through 6 interdisciplinary scientific programs, which are:

  • nuclear physics
  • fusion energy sciences
  • high energy physics
  • basic energy sciences
  • advanced scientific computing research
  • biological and environmental research

The Brookhaven National Laboratory in Uptown, New York, for example, focuses on the field of nuclear and particle physics, sustainable energy, the earth’s ecosystem, and number of other fields. The Los Alamos National Laboratory focuses on the earth and space sciences, bioscience, materials science, nuclear and particle physics, accelerators and electrodynamics, national security and weapons science, among others.

The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California is one the system’s exceptional facilities that claims a total of 13 Nobel prizes. 10 of these are from work done in the facility, while 2 were done by lab scientists who conducted their work elsewhere, with 1 from a large contingent of scientists who shared the peace prize in 2007. Among the facility’s focus include physics, chemistry, nuclear science, engineering science, earth sciences, accelerator research, and physical biosciences.

The National Laboratories has its roots in the Manhattan Project during World War II, which served as an all-out effort to develop the world’s first ever nuclear weapon. This project was under the control of the War Department’s Army Corps of Engineers, and had an aim to gather the brightest minds of the 20th century, such as Albert Einstein and Enrico Fermi, with the national effort to win the war.

The main concept of centralizing national laboratories grew out of the success of the creation of new technologies during the war, which saw the development of the radar, the computer, the atomic bomb, and the proximity fuze, which proved to be successful in helping the Allied nations win the Second World War.

After the war, the federal government made the research facilities permanent, with the aim of continuing to solve the world’s biggest scientific questions. The laboratories were then taken over by the newly appointed Atomic Energy Commission, which provided the funding and the infrastructure, with the main goal of providing a government program that focused on both classified and basic research in the scientific fields, most especially in physics.

Today, the laboratories are under the wing of the Department of Energy, focusing on a wide range of scientific fields that provide scientific solutions and innovations to the growing demands not only of the US but that of the world.

About Gordon Smith
Gordon's expertise in the area of industrial energy efficiency and alternative energy. He is an experienced electrical engineer with a Masters degree in Alternative Energy technology. He is the co-founder of several renewable energy media sites including Solar Thermal Magazine.

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